The Game Masters of Garden Place by Denis Markell

The Game Masters of Garden Place by Denis Markell is a hip cross between Bill and Ted’s and Stand by Me.

After meeting in kindergarten, five friends have entered a tough time in their lives. Middle school has hit them with a bevy of new interests, and their Saturday afternoon fantasy role-playing sessions are in jeopardy of becoming a thing of the past.

Ralph Ginzberg and his friends have been playing Reign of Dragons for a couple years, and, like all players, they have made their characters as extensions of their own personalities, the people they could never be in real life.

The first part of the book tracks the start of the characters’ foray into role-playing and the ins and outs of their friendships. They learn to roll the 20d and see the advantages of teamwork in the first parts of their quest. But the campaign stalls after getting to the last trial, and just when Ralph’s friends threaten to quit, there is a sharp and engaging twist in the plot.

Markell’s writing is adept at juggling what turns out to be ten characters at a time. It can be tough to get the rhythm and tenor of tween speak, yet he does an admirable job. Also to note, the ‘fish out of water’ aspects of the plot are inventive with strong social commentary of our times.

The Game Masters of Garden Place is a quick and fun read for the middle-school set. The inside jokes and nostalgia of D&D would encourage any parent to read along with his or her child; the exciting and fulfilling ending is good for all.

4 out of 4 stars.

Thank you to NetGalley, Random House Children’s, and Mr. Markell for an advanced copy for review.

The Game Masters of Garden Place

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